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The year of the endemic phase? 7 predictions for 2022

Experts in climate, medicine, economy available to speak on top stories for new year

After a year filled with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, experts hope lessons learned from 2021 can prepare us for a stabler 2022. But professors across Northwestern University say to expect the year’s highs and lows to follow us into the new year.

Seven Northwestern experts give their top predictions for 2022, from supply chain disruptions to the endemic phase of COVID-19 to green energy transitions.

‘We will move to the endemic phase of COVID-19’

Dr. Elizabeth McNally is the director of the Center for Genetic Medicine and the Elizabeth J. Ward Professor of Genetic Medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. She can be reached by contacting Marla Paul at marla-paul@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Dr. McNally

"In 2022, we will move more to the endemic phase of SARS-CoV-2 infection, where we continue to learn to live with the virus. Although there are many concerns about new variants, especially Omicron, at this stage it seems like those who are vaccinated and boostered are not likely to become very sick after being exposed to the virus. The greatest risk remains for those who choose to avoid vaccination.  

"Since natural immunity from prior infection and immunity from vaccines both wane over time, the overall U.S. population will have a range of protection in 2022. To manage this broad range, I predict we will rely more on antibody testing to help guide patients with underlying medical conditions and inform their need for additional boosters. I suspect we will see a vaccine specific to the Omicron variant. 

"Travel will continue but will likely required more rapid testing, especially when crossing borders.

"For those who choose to remain unvaccinated, I doubt the world will get easier for them. The vaccinated are losing their patience with having to take so many steps to protect the unvaccinated. At some point, we may just stop doing so much testing on those who are vaccinated and boostered, and instead just focus resources on better protecting the unvaccinated. 

"The newly arriving medications will help reduce need for hospital beds. But moving forward, all attention needs to focus on managing the availability of hospital beds." 

Supply chains will suffer

Tarek Abdallah is an assistant professor of operations at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at molly@lynchgrouponline.com or 773-505-9719.

Quote from Professor Abdallah

“We are experiencing shortages and delays in supply chains since every entity is highly utilized. The global shipping industry is not able to keep up with the surge in the demand, the ports are congested, companies are struggling with labor shortages, and some are shutting down due to workers protesting work conditions. In normal conditions supply chains can possibly absorb these shocks if they occur sporadically, but when these disruptions happen simultaneously even the best-in-class supply chains will suffer. With highly utilized supply chains or processes, even the smallest shock to the system can lead to disproportionate consequences that ripple throughout the chain. Add to that the uncertainty due to the emerging COVID-19 variants, and it is easy to see that we are in for a rough ride.”

‘On the precipice of transitions in energy’

Daniel E. Horton is an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the principal investigator of the Climate Change Research Group. He can be reached by contacting Lila Reynolds at lila.reynolds@northwestern.edu or 413-461-6314.

Quote from Professor Horton

“It’s been several decades since climate scientists first identified the fingerprints of human influence on global climate. And, it’s been about a decade since we’ve been able to quantify the human contribution to the occurrence and severity of individual extreme meteorological events. At this stage, human-influenced changes to our climate system are inevitable. Human-caused climate change is here and society must choose a path forward – mitigate, adapt or suffer. In 2022, I’m most excited to see what paths of action are adopted by the U.S. federal government. The Biden administration is poised to revolutionize our country’s fight against climate change via their two-tiered infrastructure package. We sit on the precipice of federally-backed transitions in energy and transportation infrastructure – actions that are critical for transitioning our society away from fossil fuels, reducing our carbon emissions and reducing the impacts of climate change.”

AI across the board

Chad Mirkin is the director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. He is also a professor of chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering, and materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, and a professor of medicine at Feinberg. He can be reached by contacting Lila Reynolds at lila.reynolds@northwestern.edu or 413-461-6314. 

Quote from Professor Mirkin

“I expect an explosion of activity in artificial intelligence for areas beyond what we typically associate it with, including newsworthy advances in synthetic biology and the creation of new medicines. But the most significant advances may come through deploying AI to address the materials genome. To meet our ambitions for clean energy and zero emissions, we need materials for fuel cells and catalysts with unprecedented power and capabilities – materials that don’t exist today. And AI, when trained on the appropriate data sets, can direct us to structures with the properties we need.”  

Innovations focused on impact

Hayes Ferguson is the director and a clinical associate professor of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She can be reached by contacting Lila Reynolds at lila.reynolds@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Ferguson

“Progress is being made with 3D touch, eliminating the need for physical devices to sense virtual objects. Soon, a physician in Chicago will be able to feel the thyroid of a patient in rural Alaska. While this specific example likely won’t be realized in the coming year, expect to see other exciting developments in this area.

“This month’s announcement that Chicago-based Radio Flyer had partnered with Tesla to launch an electric all-terrain vehicle for kids confirms that the embrace of EVs is accelerating quickly. More and more people will have no need to visit a gas station starting next year.

“I’m also encouraged by a trend toward positive social impact I’ve seen kick into high gear while working closely with entrepreneurial students over the past six years. Sure, these high achievers have personal ambitions and often are driven by a desire to make money. But they want to do this in ways that align with their values. This also means they are increasingly picky about the companies they choose to work for; if the company is not focused on sustainability and/or equity, many sought-after students won’t bother applying.”

‘Economic growth could turn negative’

Philip Braun is a clinical professor of finance at Kellogg. He can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at molly@lynchgrouponline.com or 773-505-9719.

Quote from Professor Braun

"Much uncertainty surrounds the strength and pace of economic growth for 2022. With inflation running rampant, the big question is whether real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth could turn negative on a quarterly basis in 2022. This is absolutely possible. I share five economic concerns for 2022 in this op-ed here."  

Time for corporate commitment follow-through

Nicholas Pearce is a clinical professor at Kellogg. He can be reached by contacting Molly Lynch at molly@lynchgrouponline.com or 773-505-9719.

Quote from Dr. Pearce

“Many companies have made diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments during 2020 or 2021. Now, we must challenge business leaders to enforce those commitments and not just give lip service. Business leaders should be transparent and put the DEI efforts at the center, rather than the periphery. I share more advice on how to do this in this op-ed here.”